The African Origin of Ancient Egyptian Civilization

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Few bygone civilizations fascinate us as much as that of the ancient Egyptians. The kingdom along the Nile River has been the subject of countless books, magazine articles, movies, and television shows and documentaries. There is even a hotel in Las Vegas with an ancient Egyptian theme! Museums all over the world dedicate entire galleries to excavated Egyptian artifacts, and Egypt itself receives millions of tourists flocking to photograph its ruins each year. There are many reasons behind our infatuation with ancient Egypt. One is its sheer antiquity. Egypt is one of the world’s oldest civilizations, blossoming at a time when most of the rest of the world (including the ancestors of the Greeks, Chinese, and Maya) had yet to build anything more impressive than stick huts. Another reason is that we are amazed by the Egyptians’ achievements: their colossal temples and tombs, their uncannily well-preserved mummies, their art, and their glittering jewelry. A third reason is that despite more than two centuries of study by Egyptologists, much about ancient Egypt still remains mysterious. Many questions about the Egyptians still have their answers buried by the sands of time. For instance, how were the pyramids built? What was responsible for the early death of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun? And how did the Egyptians influence later civilizations such as Greece and Rome? However, the most contentious question concerning ancient Egypt, the one that has inspired the most emotionally charged arguments, concerns their ethnic identity. Egypt lies on the African continent, specifically in its northeastern region, yet traditionally historians have classified it as part of the “Near Eastern” (alongside Sumer, Babylon, and Israel) or “Mediterranean” (alongside Greece and Rome) cultural blocs. Whenever anyone makes a movie or television show set in Egypt, white rather than black actors are chosen to play the Egyptians, for instance, Yul Brynner as the pharaoh Rameses in C.B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments, or Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep in The Mummy. The implication here is that despite being in Africa, ancient Egypt was really a white civilization of European or Asian origin rather than being truly African. This view is wrong. The best evidence we have suggests that the civilization of ancient Egypt was established in the main by indigenous Africans. This is not to say that there was no influence, biological or cultural, from Asia or Europe on Egypt, but any such influence was slight. The ancient Egyptians, biologically and culturally, were fundamentally Africans.

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